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Joe Lieberman's Anti-Public Option Rationale Keeps Shifting

First Posted: 03/18/10 06:12 AM ET Updated: 05/25/11 03:45 PM ET

Health Care Overhaul

This past Sunday, America was treated to the sight of Senator Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) rolling out yet another argument against why he will filibuster any health care reform bill that contains a public option.

LIEBERMAN: One last word on the public option. I understand that some who have-- who have advocated say we need to have a government insurance company in the market to keep the insurance companies honest. This is a radical departure from the way we've-- we've responded to the market in America in the past. Here's what I mean.


We rely first on competition in our market economy. That's brought us a lot of wealth and-- given people a lot of jobs. But when the competition fails, then what do we do? We regulate or we litigate. We have never before said in a given business-- we-- we don't trust the companies in it, so we're gonna have the government go into that business. An irony of all ironies, Congressional Budget Office says, I repeat, the government run public option company will charge more than the private companies will.

Steve Benen has been tracing Lieberman's opposition to the public option, and has an excellent piece that points out the fact that every 30 days, Lieberman basically comes up with a new reason to inveigh against it:

In June, Lieberman said, "I don't favor a public option because I think there's plenty of competition in the private insurance market." That didn't make sense, and it was quickly dropped from his talking points.


In July, Lieberman said he opposes a public option because "the public is going to end up paying for it." No one could figure out exactly what that meant, and the senator moved onto other arguments.

In August, he said we'd have to wait "until the economy's out of recession," which is incoherent, since a public option, even if passed this year, still wouldn't kick in for quite a while.

In September, Lieberman said he opposes a public option because "the public doesn't support it." A wide variety of credible polling proved otherwise.

In October, Lieberman said the public option would mean "trouble ... for the national debt," by creating "a whole new government entitlement program." Soon after, Jon Chait explained that this "literally makes no sense whatsoever."


Now, it's worth pointing out that Lieberman hasn't entirely moved along from his Octoberfest line of reasoning on yesterday's "Meet The Press", continuing to talk "about filibustering a deficit-reducing bill in order to try to remove a cost-reducing provision, and doing so on grounds of fiscal probity." But, as Benen points out, this is a brand new rationale, "shifting towards opposition based on traditions."

In a nutshell, reform advocates are saying, "Giving people the choice of a public option is likely to help consumers by cutting costs and promoting competition." Lieberman is effectively responding, "We haven't done things that way in the past."

The other malformed component of Lieberman's reasoning is that he finds the fact that "the government-run public option company will charge more than the private companies will" to be an "irony of ironies." Of course, one of the things that will keep those private premiums low is that private insurance companies will be offloading the sickest patients into the public plan.

But the real irony of ironies is that, as I already mentioned, Lieberman and other conservative Democrats oppose the sort of cost-reducing provisions that would keep the public option premium low, like tying reimbursement rates to Medicare.

Naturally, there's a much simpler explanation for why Joe Lieberman keeps shifting wildly between different, incoherent rationales for opposing the public option: he's entirely beholden to the health insurance industry, who have given him millions of dollars, through thick and thin!

RELATED:
Another Month, Another Excuse... [Washington Monthly]
The Insincerity Of The Public Option Haters: Lieberman's Weasel

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